'Narco-Saints' Threatened With Legal Action Over Depiction of Suriname

Netflix's Narco-Saints, the hit new K-drama about a Korean drug lord operating a drug cartel in Suriname, has come under fire by the South American country for its alleged portrayal of the nation as a "narco state," and is facing potential "legal action" by the Suriname government.

The gripping series, starring Screen Actors Guild and Emmy award nominee Park Hae-soo (from Netflix's Squid Game and Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area), is based on the story of a real-life Korean drug kingpin (played by Korean actor Hwang Jung-min) who ran a drug cartel in Suriname around the late 1990s and early 2000s, working with Colombia's Cali Cartel, which was founded by three brothers who broke away from Pablo Escobar's cartel.

The engrossing K-drama shot to third place among Netflix's top television shows worldwide, just three days since its release on September 9, and has remained there since. It currently ranks sixth among the top television shows on Netflix in the U.S., according to FlixPatrol, the streaming analytics company.

According to a statement posted this week on the government website of the office of the Suriname cabinet of the president, Albert Ramdin, the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and International Cooperation (BIBIS), said the series "puts the country away as a narco state."

A scene from "Narco-Saints
From left to right in the center: Ha Jung-woo, Jo Woo-jin, Yoo Yeon-seok as well as Screen Actors Guild and Emmy award nominee Park Hae-soo in a scene from the Netflix K-drama "Narco-Saints." Netflix

The website said Ramdin acknowledges that "Suriname's image has been damaged in recent decades in terms of crime and cross-border activities." However, he believes the country's image "has improved considerably," adding it "remains a problem that we will be reminded of from time to time."

The statement said the government "will look into the possibilities of taking legal action against the producers."

In addition, the statement said the government will also "make a complaint" via the ambassador of South Korea "on the basis of the good bilateral relations" with the East Asian country.

The South Korean government has yet to receive any formal notice regarding the latest matter, according to an official from South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is reportedly "doing its best to maintain a friendly relationship with Suriname," an official from the ministry said, The Korea Herald reported on Thursday.

According to the Suriname government website, Ramdin said: "Whether the practices presented in the [show] are true or false, it's about creating a negative perception. The whole world sees these things, so this is not good and we will pay close attention to that."

Newsweek contacted Netflix for comment on the latest threat of legal action from the Suriname government and a spokesperson for the streamer told Newsweek: "We don't have a comment to share on this."

The show's director/writer Yoon Jong-bin has also declined to comment, reported South Korea's Hankookilbo and other Korean media.

However, asked why he chose to set the show in an actual country, Yoon reportedly said he did not feel the need to create a fictional country as the story is based on true events, The Korea Herald reported on Thursday.

Local Korean media also reported that following the Suriname government's notice about Narco-Saints, the South Korean embassy in Venezuela, which handles relations with Suriname, issued a safety warning, noting they are "deeply concerned about the safety of Koreans."

In a statement posted on its website, the embassy said: "We understand that the Korean community in Suriname is embarrassed because of the possible fallout of the Netflix series Narco-Saints. We, the embassy staff, are deeply concerned about the safety of Koreans and will do our utmost to keep you safe.

"Please be aware at all times ...should anyone have any issue that causes concern or require help, please contact us via the president of the Korean community in the region."

Narco-Saints, which also stars Chang Chen (the lead actor from the Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as a Chinese gangster running a methamphetamine drug trade in Suriname, sees a nail-biting sting operation unravel in a bid to capture the Korean drug lord based on the real-life Cho Bong-haeng.

Cho, born in 1952, was arrested by the Brazilian police force at an airport in São Paulo back in 2009 and in 2011, the 29th Criminal Division of the Seoul Central District Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison, according to South Korea's Chosunilbo and other Korean media.

His current whereabouts are reportedly a mystery. Financial News, the South Korean daily, reported Cho was rumored to have returned to Suriname following his release from prison.

Newsweek has contacted the Suriname cabinet government office for further comment.

Cabinet office of the president of Suriname.
The exterior of the Cabinet office of the president of Suriname, pictured in September 2022. iStock/Getty Images Plus